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As a pilot shortage continues, one airline is turning to SDSU

Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737

A shortage of pilots is factoring into the airline delays and cancellations passengers have been experiencing.

During the pandemic, many pilots took early retirement packages when people stopped traveling, and more than 1,400 openings are projected each year over the next decade.

Rep. Dusty Johnson and Sen. John Thune have introduced bills to address a national pilot shortage. But it's not just South Dakota politicians addressing the issues.

South Dakota State University has partnered with Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines to get more students in the field.

If a student is selected for the program, they complete a three-month pilot training program with Sun Country. Following the training program, students will be eligible for full-time employment.

Cody Christensen is an associate professor of the aviation program. He said students in the program can go directly from graduation to flying a Boeing 747 with Sun County Airlines.

"Once a student has all of their training through South Dakota State University and they have at least 1,000 hours of flight-time, and they're minimally qualified, then they would go into an at least a three-month training profile through Sun Country Airlines where they would be specifically trained on the types of operations, the aircraft, the emergency procedures, the operations at Sun Country Airlines," Christensen said.

Christensen said the program in no way lowers the quality of commercial pilots and that all graduates are trained to the highest standards.

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.